The Return of Punkinhead
‘90s punk funk band to reunite for upcoming shows
By Brian Washburn
Paul Boatright is waiting eagerly at Hugo’s restaurant in downtown Fayetteville, ready to talk about his nearly three decades in the music industry. While his musical career has taken him from Arkansas to Los Angeles (where he was offered the chance to audition to be James Brown’s guitarist) and back to Arkansas, he has been working extremely hard — harder than usual — for the past several months to orchestrate a Punkinhead reunion show.
Boatright’s most successful and well-known band to date, a band that sparked a musical revolution in Fayetteville and opened the doors for the local music scene, is preparing for their first full reunion show. That’s right, Punkinhead will be reuniting in Fayetteville for the first time in 12 years.
Punkinhead started in 1990 in the underground Fayetteville punk scene. The band released two albums and toured the nation extensively. While the rest of the Fayetteville music scene was immersed in the punk scene of the day, Punkinhead took their sound back a few decades and exploded onto the scene with something completely different: funk.
“We were just trying to play the kind of music we wanted to play,” Boatright said. “The music scene was ready for something different and the punk rock scene was ready for something not so outside or so underground. They were ready for something really positive.
“It was phenomenal. [The band] started out as a punk, funk four-piece band, but it turned into a real cultural phenomenon that was synonymous with the explosion of the Fayetteville music scene.”
With their funky sound (heavily influenced by Sly and the Family Stone by giving every member their time in the spotlight) and their optimistic outlook on the world, Punkinhead seemed to have the ’90s and the nation at their feet.
“We had tremendous success here in this area and throughout the Midwest and southeast, from Iowa to New Orleans all the way over to Georgia,” said Boatright, who provided vocals and guitar to the band. “Punkinhead was the first band to come up from the underground and go mainstream. The cultural impact Punkinhead had on the town brought together the underground and aboveground music scenes. They merged and made the music scene explode.”
The band will reunite with Boatright, keyboardist and vocalist Eric Mills, drummer and vocalist Charlie Platt, bassist and vocalist Kevin Blakely and trumpet player Jeff Gray, whose now playing with 1 Oz. Jig. The band toured through much of the ’90s and even pursued a few record label deals before finally disbanding permanently a few years after Boatright’s departure in ’96 because of the extensive touring and hardships of the road.
Even though Punkinhead has not had a full reunion show in more than 12 years, it’s not from the lack of fans or from the lack of nostalgia felt amongst the Fayetteville music scene.
“Every year or two someone wants to do a reunion show, whether it’s a promoter or club owner or even one of the band members,” Boatright said. “Most of the time it wouldn’t work out because of personal schedules, jobs or where [the band members] are with their lives.”
However, 2008 proved to be a different story when Punkinhead bassist Kevin Blakely was approached by Little Rock club owner Chris King about a reunion show. Shortly after, King e-mailed Boatright and after “about three months of wrangling everybody with their schedules to see if it was possible, [the show] went in.”
“It’s a lot of work pulling this off,” Boatright said. “I’m the one who’s responsible for pulling everything together. We all lead separate lives in different places. We’re married and have jobs. It’s tough to get all of our schedules to align just right.”
Members of Punkinhead have gone on to careers ranging from web master to banker and even minister. Boatright is the only Punkinhead alumni who is still pursuing music fulltime with his solo act.
This reunion show is pulling people from Kansas City, New Orleans, Chicago, Austin and California. With the show taking place during the University of Arkansas homecoming weekend, Boatright and the other members of Punkinhead have decided to make this somewhat of a homecoming weekend for the “old school” Fayetteville music scene.
With the show in tact and fans and band members flying into Arkansas from all over the country, Boatright thinks music fans and Fayetteville needs Punkinhead more than ever.
“We had a real positive social message, which helped to be the glue that held our crowd together and brought the cultural and music scene of Fayetteville together,” Boatright said.
Because of the positive message, Boatright said Punkinhead could draw crowds ranging in age from 5 to 87, heavy metal guys, dance music fans and those from the punk rock scene. However, with the dwindling economy, music scene and nation, positive messages are becoming harder and harder to find in today’s music.
“Right now, people who remember us and the fans who are going to come see us, they’re craving something to make them happy, make them dance and something to tell them everything will be all right and keep your head up,” Boatright said.
He said that people are craving something positive deep down, but since 9/11, two wars and the Bush administration, people have become more cynical and jaded.
Even though the world faces more hardships than it did during the dot com boom of the ’90s, Boatright does not think Punkinhead is a band for that time period. In fact, with the immense response to the band reuniting, he now knows how much of an impact this little funk/punk band really had in Fayetteville.
“Hardly any bands who haven’t played a show in 12 years have a fervent response at the prospect of getting back together and playing a show. We’re not dated or we would only belong in that time period. We have a real timeless quality or people wouldn’t be that interested,” Boatright said.
While Punkinhead didn’t start out political, they started making much more of a statement socially towards the start of their second album. But don’t expect them to preach politics when they take the stage.
Boatright said the band just wants to “give everybody a great time because that’s what everybody wants and craves and that’s what [Punkinhead] is about and why people loved us.”
With the internet and the multiple ways of music distribution around the world, Boatright thinks Punkinhead would have definitely benefited from the digital age we are in now. He even cites Apple CEO Steve Jobs as a major influence in the digital music boom.
Boatright hopes the band’s message and enthusiasm will pour over to the younger Dickson Street music crowd, who have never seen and maybe never even heard of Punkinhead.
“Dickson Street these days is a lot about getting hammered and hooking up with people. It’s not about the live music,” Boatright said. “It’s about people walking from bar to bar talking on cell phones and wearing designer clothing. That was not what the scene was about [back in the day]. It was about live music.”
But Boatright hopes the Punkinhead reunion show might help revert the Dickson Street music scene back to the past and draw in new fans.
He expects that many of the people who will be coming to the reunion show have never heard the band and are younger and unfamiliar with the history of Fayetteville’s music scene.
“Hopefully they will have their eyes opened up and connect with the fans we have from back in the day and the “old school” music fans at the show,” Boatright said.
Punkinhead will reunite first at the Green Door in Fayetteville on Halloween night. The next night they will be the host band for the 18th annual Harvest Moon Ultimate party.
Both nights new local favorite, 1 Oz. Jig, whose frontman Jeff Kearney cites Punkinhead as an inspiration, will open.
Punkinhead is even repressing CDs to have available at the show, as well as iTunes the week of or the week after the show, according to Boatright.
After the reunion, Punkinhead will sign a deal with Boatright’s new publishing company to have their music licensed to film and TV, as well as making sure Punkinhead CDs are always in print. Boatright said a live, double album and a live DVD of old Punkinhead footage is in the works.
While Punkinhead might not have made the lasting impression across the nation as it did in Fayetteville, Boatright seems to have accomplished what he wanted out of this little funk band that he helped create, just to give the underground scene something different.
“[The band’s legacy] was that we had a positive and lasting impact in people’s hearts and minds and how they continue to live their lives today,” Boatright said. “People still to this day, live their day-to-day lives by some principles they came to know, embrace and live by in that time listening to us and our lyrics. It’s amazing to me, really, truly amazing.”
The Return of Punkinhead